Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What is up with that Weird Title and Who the Hell is Zhenya, Anyway?

The answer to this question is that Russians have weird nicknames. You might know that the nickname for Alexander is Sasha, and the nickname for Michael is Misha…etc. Zhenya is the nickname for Evgeni, which basically means Eugene, but Eugene is a boring name, so there you go.

The title itself comes from a scene a little ways into the book, where Evgeni instructs Anna on how to control his wolf form for her own protection. The wolf’s response to her assertion of control leads to all kinds of interesting complications down the road.

Here’s the scene:

“First I’ll answer your question about waking me, but not waking the wolf.”

She nodded. It was important she knew this. “All right.”

Evgeni slid the backpack to the ground. It landed silently, and his steps were equally silent when he closed the distance between them. “First,” he said, “you touch me like this.”

His hand rose, and for a split second she thought she’d misjudged him, that she’d followed him out here to the Alaskan bush just so he could kill her where no one would ever find her body. His hand closed around the side of her neck, resting partially on her shoulder, his thumb pressing against her Adam’s apple. She flinched; she couldn’t help it. The movement hadn’t been sudden or violent, and nothing about his touch hurt her, but every cell in her body was suddenly, acutely aware that he could break her neck or crush her windpipe with a single shift of that enormous hand. Was he really answering her question, or was he making a point?

Then his eyes softened again, and the grip shifted. The thumb on her windpipe didn’t relax, because it had never been taut to begin with, but it moved, stroking her skin. And that brought a whole new onslaught of sensation.

“It’s important to touch me here,” he told her and tapped her windpipe lightly. “It doesn’t have to be hard or rough—in fact it’s better if it isn’t. But your thumb here, your fingers behind my ear.”

“What if…” She struggled to regain her composure. “What if your back is to me?”

“Turn around and I’ll show you.” He released her and made a twirling motion with one finger. The size and weight of his hand still lay imprinted on her throat.

Hesitant, she turned her back to him.

The touch came promptly, but she was ready for it this time. He laid his fingers along the line of her windpipe, his thumb pressing against the base of her skull. Still gentle, careful, yet still a placement he could use to kill her if he chose.

“You hold me and speak to me,” he said, and she could feel his warm breath against her ear. “You do not call me Evgeni. You say Zhenya.”

It was a diminutive, she knew, like calling him Sasha if his name were Alexander, or like calling her Annie. “Zhenya,” she repeated.

“Yes.” His hand came free, and she turned back around to face him. “You do it. Show me you understand.”

She stared up at him. She wasn’t sure she could even reach his neck, much less get her hand into the right position. Okay, maybe that was an exaggeration, but he was definitely tall enough to make it awkward.

As if reading her dilemma on her face, he dropped to his knees, a smile working his mouth. “Try now.”

God, this was weird. But necessary. He wasn’t playing games with her. In a very real way, he was showing her how to control him. And he didn’t have to do that.

She laid her hand along his neck and shoulder, mimicking the position he’d used on her. Her thumb lay against the hard knob of his Adam’s apple, which was roughened with overnight stubble. So was his cheek, where her index finger brushed it. Her small hand seemed ludicrously inadequate for the task she’d assigned it.

His Adam’s apple bobbed, then vibrated beneath her hand. “If you were a mama wolf,” he told her, “you would take me by my neck and put me where you wanted me. And if you were an alpha, you would take me by my neck and show me I was not the alpha. So this shows control but also protection. If the wolf is waiting there right under the skin, this will make it understand you are a friend.”

Anna nodded, letting her hand drop. Since he was kneeling, she walked around to stand behind him rather than asking him to turn. From behind, she laid her hand again on his neck, thumb against the base of his skull, fingers along the line of his windpipe. “Like this?”

“Yes. Now say my name.”

“Zhenya,” she said obligingly. “Zhenya, wake up and don’t try to eat my face.”

He chuckled. “There, you see? It’s easy enough.”


I hope you enjoyed it! And don't forget to vote!

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

How "Call Me Zhenya" Came to Be

This week, I'm going to spend some time talking about my Kindle Scout book, Call Me Zhenya, and how I came to write it. Next week, I'll be encore-posting some blog posts I did over at Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers about Kindle Scout and the Scouting process. I hope you'll enjoy a peek inside my creative process (aka--KK's brain is freakin' weird).

You might get tired of seeing this cover.
I won't. It's pretty. *pets*

The seed idea for this book hit me several years ago. I was watching an episode of Angel (first-run--I told you it's been a while...), during the Season Four arc when Angelus was unleashed. There's a scene where Wesley Wyndham-Pryce (STILL BITTER, JOSS WHEDON) breaks Faith out of prison so she can go do her vampire-slaying thang. She was in prison voluntarily, atoning for her sins from way back in Season One (and Season Four of Buffy the Vampire Slayer), but they needed her, so she took a fancy dive through a glass window and high-tailed it out with Wes. (Which, frankly, any lady in her right mind would do, because, hello, Wesley Wyndham-Pryce.)

That scene got me thinking. What if a spy were in prison voluntarily, taking a hit for something that happened in an operation that wasn't her fault? That evolved into having her there for protective custody. Then another spy comes to let her out. And what if that spy were the man who betrayed her? Or the man who killed her lover?

The idea sat in my ideas folder for a long time, just called "Spy Girl." I'd thought about writing it to submit to a specific publisher, but then the line at that publisher was discontinued before I got the manuscript underway. So it continued to incubate.
Evgeni Malkin, Russian Werewolf Spy

A few years later, my BFF and I were talking about story ideas, hockey player fic, and specifically Evgeni Malkin. (This was the same type of conversation that led to me writing Blood on the Ice, which started with "Vampire hockey. Go.") At some point, one of us said, "Evgeni Malkin, Russian Werewolf Spy." Maybe she said it, maybe I did--I don't actually remember. But that made me start thinking about "Spy Girl" again, and suddenly the whole story fell into place. The Spy Girl, inspired by Faith, became Anna, who's been sitting in a prison in Barrow, Alaska for two years under what she was told would be temporary protective custody. Then along comes Evgeni Belyakov, Russian Werewolf Spy, an assassin who's been having second thoughts about an assignment he was involved in two years ago. Poking around in places he wasn't supposed to, he found out things he shouldn't have. And now he's going to atone by breaking Anna out of prison. Because if she stays there, the Agency that promised to protect her is going to kill her to prevent the information inside her genetically enhanced superbrain from falling into enemy hands.

So that's the story of the story. I hope you'll take a minute to drop by and vote. I had a hell of a lot of fun writing this book, and I think you'll have a hell of a lot of fun reading it.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Big Announcement! New Book on Kindle Scout!

I’ve got a new book ready to go, and I need your help!

Over the past few months, I’ve been getting a manuscript ready to submit to Kindle Scout. Scout is a platform on Kindle where readers get to help Amazon decide what books to publish. It’s a little like Kickstarter, in that your votes are part of the process that gets the book picked for publication, but you don’t have to pledge money. All you have to do is vote.

At the end of the voting period, if my book is chosen and you voted for it, you’ll automatically get a free copy. If it’s not chosen, I’ll make it available at a low introductory price as soon as possible after the voting closes, and I’ll have a contest to give away a few free copies.

So I need your votes! The campaign runs for thirty days. Here’s the URL—go check out the excerpt and add me to your Scouting list!

He'll risk his own humanity to save her life.
Short-term protective custody, they said. But two years later, Anna Slaten—and the data locked inside her enhanced brain—is still behind bars.

Evgeni Belyakov seeks atonement. Two years ago, the wolf shifter/assassin did what he was ordered to do. Since then, he’s learned the ugly truth about the Agency. And that Anna is next on their hit list. But saving her could mean risking everything. His heart. His secrets. And surrendering control to the most dangerous creature of all. His wolf.